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53 dead in migrant shipwreck off Tunisia

June 12, 2020

Rescue operations have recovered 53 bodies after a vessel carrying migrants capsized off the coast of Tunisia. The passengers had been fleeing tensions caused by the conflict in Libya.

The body of a migrant is buried in Tunisia
Image: picture-alliance/AA/H. Zouari

The death toll in a migrant shipwreck off of Tunisia's coast has risen to 53, Tunisian officials said Friday, as efforts to flee the conflict in Libya spike. 

The boat had set sail last Saturday before capsizing and sinking over the weekend, officials said. The first bodies were recovered on Sunday. 

Search teams recovered the bodies of a further 13 men and women on Thursday, Tunisia's defense ministry said. 

The bodies of two toddlers and 20 adults washed up on the shores of Tunisia's Kerkennah Island in the Mediterranean Sea, while 19 more bodies were founding floating in the waters. 

Read more: Germany's EU presidency should work to reform asylum policy: Seehofer

All passengers from sub-Saharan Africa

Many of the victims were buried in the coastal city of Sfax on Wednesday, the region's health director told The Associated Press.

It is likely that all bodies have been recovered, the head of the Red Crescent in Sfax told the DPA news agency. Friends of people on board said there had been 53 people on the vessel, according to a spokesperson for Sfax courts Murad al-Turki. 

Migrants struggle in Calais

With the exception of the Tunisian captain, all of the victims are from sub-Saharan Africa, with most coming from the Ivory Coast, Tunisian authorities said.

Read more: Malta lets migrants ashore after weeks in limbo

Immigration attempts spike

According to the UN's refugee agency, illegal crossings from Tunisia to Italy increased by 150% between January and April compared to the same time period last year.

The newest deaths are "the inevitable result of restrictive and inhuman migration policies adopted by the European Union which are limited to a security approach to migration issues," said the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, a nongovernmental organization that works on migration and refugee issues. 

The EU has invested hundreds of millions of euros in stopping the conflict in Libya with the aim of slowing the wave of migrants attempting to reach Europe. 

According to AP, a large portion of the funds has been diverted to networks consisting of militias, traffickers, and coast guard members who exploit migrants. 

kp/mm (AP, dpa)

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